Monday, July 20, 2009

More NPS Web Fun

The main NPS web page is a barrel of fun, but they have several subsidiary and parallel pages that are almost as much fun.

The first one that comes to mind is the Harpers Ferry Center. Their web page states, "Since 1970, Harpers Ferry Center has created a variety of interpretive tools to assist NPS field interpreters. These tools include audiovisual programs, historic furnishings, museum exhibits, publications, and wayside exhibits. HFC also provides a variety of services including graphics research, interpretive planning, media contracting, artifact conservation, revision and reprinting of publications, and replacement of wayside exhibits." Yes folks, these are the people who make the beautiful folders that we get in each park in addition to other graphics and media. Very talented graphic artists, if you ask me. If I had more skill at graphic arts, that would be my dream job.

The Park Service has a rather extensive history web site. You could spend hours browsing around there. One of my favorite history pages is the NPS birthday page. It lists birthdays of National Park units in chronological order.

Another of my favorites is the park planning site. This site contains PDFs of the various park planning documents. The most interesting are the General Management Plans, which are park master plans, but there is something for everyone. It seems that whenever they want to do work in the park, there is a document. Close a trail? Document. Realign a road? Document. Improve radio communications? Document. Yes, the NPS is indeed a division of the US government. I poke a little fun at them, but even the most mundane document is interesting if it concerns your favorite park.

Saving the best for last, my favorite is The Morning Report. This really tells you what is going on at the parks and the Park Service. There is an Incidents section, which contains things such as tourists falling into the Grand Canyon, a Fire Management section, which contains lists and summaries of fires in the parks, an Operational Notes section, which contains bills and other Congressional activity, and a Parks and People section, which includes job listings and awards. It is fascinating reading for the National Park buff.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fun with Web Addresses

The web site for the National Park Service is, as you might expect, Each park has its own web page that can be accessed from there. Someone who visits the NPS web site as much has I do soon notices a pattern to the addresses for the individual parks. They are of the form For a park with a one-word name, xxxx is the first four letters of the name. For a park with more than one word in the name, xxxx is the first two letters of the first word and the first two letters of the second word.

The address for Glacier National Park, for example, would thus be Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore would be With almost 400 units in the system, I would imagine that there are a few duplicates. I do not know the rule for that. I would assume that the National Park would have first priority, followed by National Monument, and so on in some hierarchy. But then what does xxxx become for the losing park? I also do not know the rule if the abbreviation is a naughty word.

It looks like I'll have something to do the next time I want to waste a little time. I suppose the answer is somewhere at the NPS web site, but that would be no fun.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Astounding Scenery

In my last entry, I talked about my favorite National Parks. I considered each park as a whole in choosing the parks. There are many other park that don't make that list but do have some astounding scenery. By astounding, I mean astounding, not pretty or nice or anything else. I am talking about blow-me-away scenery. This posting is devoted to those parks. I do not offer any photos because they would simply not do justice to the scenery.

Number one on my list of astounding scenery is Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon. It is the side of a plateau, a one-sided canyon if you will. It is not just a plain old side, though. The rock is in varying shades from white to yellow to brown, and fantastic shapes have been carved into that rock. Standing on the rim, you see these colors and shapes and a view that stretches forever. Astounding.

A close number two is Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Crater Lake is a mountain lake that rests in the collapsed volcanic cone of Mount Mazama in the Cascade Mountain Range. For years I had heard that is was so blue, so pretty, blah, blah, blah. I usually don't believe anything that is hyped so much. I was so wrong. We entered the park from the north and took the road towards the rim road that circles the lake. At the Grouse Hill pull-off, I got my first view of the lake. I was amazed. It really is as blue as people say. The pictures do not do it justice. You need to go there and see it for yourself.

Next on the list is Yosemite National Park in California. Yosemite is the most over-hyped park on the face of the Earth. Because of this hype, I was not enjoying the park as much as I expected. No matter how beautiful, living up to this much hype is nearly impossible - nearly. On my last day there I was heading for the South entrance to continue on to Kings Canyon National Park. Naturally, I took this chance to drive to Glacier Point. Wow! I tend not to use the term breath-taking, but there is no other term to use when standing at Glacier Point looking down at the whole valley.

In fourth place is Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Unless you live under a rock, you know what the Grand Canyon looks like. Everyone has seen it countless times on TV and movies. However, this does not prepare you for seeing it in person. Your eyes see in three dimensions, and more importantly have a 180 degree angle of vision, much more than a movie camera. The canyon is huge, and it completely fills your vision. Astounding!

No list is complete without an honorable mention. Having been to so many National Parks, I don't expect to be amazed any more. Thankfully, I can still be. On my recent trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, I hiked to the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. The Chisos Mountains rise pretty much from the middle of a desert, so you might expect the view from something called "The South Rim" to be pretty good. Pretty good indeed. Spectacular is more like it. I give this view an honorable mention because it is a notch less grand than the other views, and mainly because the effect was as much from surprise as it was from splendor. I hiked about seven miles without seeing much in the way of views, and then I came to a sign that said "South Rim." I didn't see any south rim, but there was a trail heading up a slight incline, presumably to the edge of the cliff. When I got to the top, a spectacular "top-of-the-world" view opened up. Definitely worth the trip.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Favorites

When I tell people how many National Parks I have visited, they usually ask, "Which one is your favorite?" This is a fair question, but it is not simple to answer for two reasons. First, there are three parks that are essentially tied for first. Second, there are two other parks that may actually be my favorite, but not for the usual reasons.

If forced to name my single favorite park, it would be Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (with a bit of overlap into Montana and Idaho). Yellowstone was my first big famous national park (my third overall), and it has a larger variety of things to see than any other park. Yellowstone has geysers, mudpots, hot springs, lakes, mountains, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, trees, animals, and birds all in one place. Moreover, the thermal features, especially the geysers, are something one does not see in everyday life. They are awesome.

My second contender for favorite park, Olympic National Park in Washington, also has a great variety, and it is beautiful. It has three distinct environments: Rain forest, ocean beach, and mountain. Beach and mountain environments are not unique, but rarely are they seen in such close proximity. The temperate rain forest is something not seen in many other places. It is like an Eastern forest on steroids. Everything is greener and the green is everywhere. Olympic is where I first saw tides with my own eyes. I am not from near the ocean, so tides were always a rather theoretical thing for me. Seeing the same beach at low and high tide made me a believer.

Glacier National Park in Montana is known for beautiful mountain scenery. This would include the mountains themselves as well as lakes, rivers, forests, glaciers, and waterfalls. Going-to-the-Sun Road is often called the most beautiful drive in America. I do not argue with these descriptions, and Glacier is my third contender for favorite National Park. It does not have the variety of Yellowstone or Olympic, but for sheer beauty and majesty, it has no equal. I am also somewhat partial to this park because I did extensive day hiking there. The Grinnell Glacier trail is probably the finest hike I have ever taken. As time goes by, Glacier rises in my mind, and some day I may very well count that as my very favorite.

So, we have a virtual tie between Yellowstone , Olympic, and Glacier as my favorite National Park, but what about the other two that I mentioned? Saguaro National Park in Arizona is my favorite in a different sense. I have been there six times, more than any other National Park, and I know the Tucson Mountain District almost like the back of my hand. I love the saguaros, and I know this park so well that it seems like my own little park. I have a connection to it that I do not have with any other National Park. In this sense, it is my favorite.

I have this same sense of connection to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, with the bonus that the park is quite beautiful. I have been there even more than Saguaro and know it even better, but it is not a National Park proper. If the question asks which is my favorite unit in the National Park System, then I can answer "Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore." PRNL has trees, rivers, lakes, secluded beaches, and waterfalls. Above all, however, it has Lake Superior, the greatest of the Great Lakes. The cliffs tower above the lake and the views are magnificent. The Chapel/Grand Portal Loop, which partially follows the top of the cliffs, is my favorite hike. The view of the cliffs from the commercial tour boat is also quite striking. Really, the only reason PRNL is not my favorite National Park is because it does not qualify in that category. If we ever have Pictured Rocks National Park, it will be my favorite.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

.. and Lame-o Was His Name-o

The vast majority of US National Parks are amazing spectacles of nature. Some of them, though, are amazing spectacles of lameness.

Number one on the lame list is Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, a relatively new addition. I don't know what Congress was thinking when they promoted this park all the way from a National Recreation Area to a National Park. Did someone owe someone a favor? There is nothing really wrong with the park if you compare it to a metropark, which is a large regional park in a metro area, usually run by the county. There is something very wrong if you compare it to a National Park. It should be stripped of its title and revert back to a National Recreation Area or it should be given away and made into a metropark for the Cleveland/Akron area.

Number two in lameness is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. I would have made this number one, but it has been a National Park for many years. In fact, it was a National Reservation before there was even a Yellowstone National Park or a National Park Service. The park is small and it has virtually no scenery. It is in the middle of a city. It has some fine historic buildings, and it should be converted into a National Historical Park.

Last on my lame list is Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. I hate to include this park, because it is a fine idea. The trouble is that there is virtually no petrified wood to see. Much of it was dynamited and carted off a hundred years ago. The Blue Mesa is pretty, but darn it, I wanted to see massive quantities of petrified wood. Having I-40 running through the park does not help, either. Perhaps this park should be demoted to a National Monument, but I do not feel strongly about that.

I can think of a few other parks that should have been kept at the National Monument level, but they are fine parks, not lame at all, and I don't begrudge them their higher status.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

National Parks

I am somewhat of an expert on US National Parks. I have been visiting them for about twenty years, and my count now stands at 45 (out of 58). When I say that I have visited 45 National Parks, I mean that I have actually spent time there. I am not a windshield tourist. There are always exceptions, of course. I have to admit that I spent very little time at Biscayne. The boat was out of service that day, and I spent just an hour or two at the visitor center and the waterfront. On the other hand, I spent a week at Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, hiking a total of 72 miles.

I plan on using this blog to comment on the parks themselves and related subjects. Stay tuned.